Foods weigh you down, they just do – think Thanksgiving (do you automatically undo your top button on your pants just thinking about it?) That doesn’t mean that you can’t eat those high calorie, fat infused, carb-infested foods, it just means that you have to learn a few new tricks and pull back on your portion sizes. I’ve learned a lot about food from different cultures. I believe that they have helped shape me into a well-rounded cook.
1. Learn from Asian Cultures: Make your grains and vegetables the star of your main dishes. Think Garlic Broccoli and Onions over rice topped with grilled chicken strips. These days, we’re cutting out all the white carbs (flour, potatoes, white rice, etc.) when we can, but when we do have it, (of course we love it) we keep that starch portion on the small size. We up the veggie portion and we’re good.
2. Learn from French Culture: Try to shop for your food daily – fresh. Buy everything you need (meat, veg, fruit, starch, etc.,) on your way home from work. Not feasible? Then shop once a week (we use to shop every 2 weeks, but then we found we spent most days defrosting rather than cooking.) Organics are your best bet and sometimes they do go on sale. Buying pieces (thighs, drumsticks, wings) are way cheaper than buying chicken-breast. In the past, I didn’t like to eat dark meat chicken, but I have learn to love them because they are cheaper than white meat and my recipes really go well with the juicier cuts of dark meat chicken.
3. Learn from Italian Cultures: Cook what you have growing locally in your area. If it’s the season for tomatoes, use tomatoes, cucumbers are in season, eat cucumbers. The same goes for your other fruits and vegetables. Fresh, raw produce are the best things you can eat. We make an Italian panzanella (bread salad) with fresh, cubed focaccia, cucumbers, tomatoes, olives, bell peppers, red onions and parsley when it’s all in season. Whenever possible, buy local, seasonal, and organic foods.
4. Learn from Latino Cultures: Make fresh sofritos and recao (culantro) – consisting of mainly garlic, onions, peppers, tomatoes, and cilantro cooked in olive/annato oil along with other ingredients. Sofrito is used as the base for many Latino dishes like beans, rice, stews, and meats. The flavor is incredible! Making your own is always best and the taste of it is unmistakably Sabor Latino!!
5. Learn from Spanish Culture: Small bites (tapas) are all the rage with Foodies right now, but Castellanos have had it right for awhile. Dinner in Spain (and in lots of other countries) is usually between 9-11pm. So, they go bar-hopping after work and before dinnertime. Wouldn’t you prefer chopitos rather than beer nuts? (Chopitos are batter fried thin slices of squid – calamari.) One 10+ Anniversary, I made a tapas-style dinner. It was easy to shop for: 4 Large shrimps, fresh crab for 2 crab-cakes, 1 lobster tail split for two, 2 large scallops, and a handful of black mussels. I may have spent less than $25 but the food look like a MILLION bucks – especially when served one seafood at a time on small, beautifully garnished plates. Mix it up, small bites are often more inviting than one large meal.
6. Learn from Russian Culture: Typically, supper starts just before 7pm and can last for several HOURS. I’ve been invited to a Russian dinner at a co-workers house back in the late 1990′s. I arrived at 6:30 and was fed a first course of shi (borscht.) The family discussed events of the day while waiting for the second course. Other pleasant small talk was exchanged and out came the third course. 45 minutes later, another course – this time coffees, drinks, and smaller foods. I looked at my watch (which is so rude to do) and it was already 10pm. By the time desserts came out to be feasted on, it was nearly 11pm. I swear to you that when I left, it was just after midnight. What can we learn from the Russians? That Family, Friends, and Food is all you need to entertain. Dinner should be a slow, wonderful experience…you need time to digest all that food and get to know your friends. Guests in a Russian home for dinner is a very BIG deal – you are going to spend HOURS there. Make your next dinner party the same way; a slow wonderful experience – and keep your “Significant Other” from asking you, “When are they leaving?” jajajaja
7. Learn from Southern Culture: Uncomplicated, simple foods are delicious. There’s no need to mask the root flavors of foods with fancy dressings, fancy oils, or fancy techniques. Fried chicken,
whipped mashed potatoes, and collards is perfectly delicious all on it’s own. A peach cobbler can match any patisserie pastry as far as flavor is concerned. Never substitute home-cooking for fancy tricks and methods. It’s just not necessary.
8. Learn from our Older Culture: If you can cook like your Mama did, you’re already ahead of the game, however make 2 crucial adjustments – cook in half the time (over-cooking) and serve less food (big-portions.) Our mothers and grandmothers (and some of our fathers) were great cooks. They did however, overcook lots of foods. Greens (spinach, collards, cabbages, etc.) had their very color cooked out of them. Oven-roasted foods such as turkey, chicken, pernil (roast pork,) lasagna and even potatoes were cooked forever in too hot ovens. The difference between my turkey and my mother’s turkey is probably a 3 hour difference. Portion size is also a key difference – how many times were you told to eat, eat, eat, even after 2 to 3 servings? It was like “We may never have food again so eat all you can now” kind of attitude. Even today, at my in-laws house, there’s food enough to feed armies and if you try to be “cute” and eat a regular portion, you get looks that say, “Don’t act new!” jajajajajaja. Keep your portions way smaller than what you grew up with.